History : When Yves Saint Laurent encouraged top models to visit Morocco

Morocco was a favored destination for celebrities during the late 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, after shedding light on those rockers and intellectuals who flew to the Kingdom for holidays trips it is time to remember the top models that by their turn fell in love with the beauty of this country.

Suzy Parker, an American model posing in Morocco for Elle magazine in 1953./Ph. DR
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As Paul Bowles, the American expatriate writer who lived for decades in Tangier, succeeded in pushing other international intellectuals to visit Morocco, Yves Saint Laurent, the iconic designer whose name became associated with Marrakech did the same thing. This time we are talking fashion rendering homage to the beautiful American and European top models who landed in the Kingdom to take one of the most exotic and breath-taking photos.

Born in 1936 in Oran, Algeria, it was Morocco and most precisely Marrakech that seduced the young designer. After his first trip to the North African kingdom in 1966, five years after creating his eponymous fashion label, Yves Saint accompanied with Pierre Bergé, his companion, fell in love with the former imperial city. With all his friends and acquaintances in the fashion industry, the designer was regarded as a magnet that encouraged other celebrities to step on the Moroccan soil for the first time.

YSL and Marrakech 

It is about the way this fashion passionate regarded the city, the culture, heritage and general atmosphere. This was confirmed in an interview conducted by Amuse, a digital magazine and video channel, with Pierre Bergé, who aside from being Laurent’s companion is a French award-wining industrialist and a longtime business partner of the eponymous designer. Speaking about the two French men first day in Marrakech, he recalled saying : «Yves and I arrived in Marrakech aboard an AirFrance Caravelle after a layover in Tangier. We stayed at the Mamounia. It was raining a lot».

Yves Saint Laurent posing in Marrakech./Ph. DRYves Saint Laurent posing in Marrakech./Ph. DR

«When the rain stopped after an entire week, we finally discovered that famous light which you cannot see anywhere else. The Moroccan sun probes every recess and corner. The birds were singing and the Atlas Mountain, covered with snow, would make our horizon warmer and greater».

With this beautiful and awe-inspiring scene, the famous YSL started a journey that would later inspire others. After buying a house in Marrakech, the couple returned regularly to their Morocco mansion bringing regularly friends such as Andy Warhol, Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux.

Describing their obsession with the red city Bergé told the same magazine that «when you fall in love, it is hard to tell you why! We would never forget that morning when it stopped raining. We actually fell in love with everything». Yves and Pierre were actually very fascinated by Marrakech that they decided to invite others from their entourage to come stay in their medina house «Dar el Hanch» (the Snake’s House). «we’d already bought a house (…) a place where many friends came to visit over the years», said Bergé.

«I recall many beautiful moments filled with love in the company of Loulou de La Falaise, Fernando Sanchez, Betty Catroux, Andy Warhol, Paul and Talitha Getty, and many others.»

Betty Catroux visiting her bestie

Indeed all these famous models came to Morocco influenced by their beloved friend and designer, Yves Saint Laurent. We can start with the dearest model to Yves’ heart, the iconic Betty Catroux. Daughter of a Brazil-born French socialite and an American diplomat, Betty was known to the world of fashion as the muse of YSL, his beloved model and twin sister as he declared on several occasions. She met the designer for the first time in 1960 and they felt connected on day one.

Yves Saint Laurent laughing while cuddling with Betty Catroux in Marrakech./Ph. DRYves Saint Laurent laughing while cuddling with Betty Catroux in Marrakech./Ph. DR

The model, still remembers her moments with the designer in the mid-southwestern city such as her visit in 1969. In a Vogue article published in October celebrating the opening of Musée Yves Saint Laurent, she stated «I have so many memories – of being with him, also here in Marrakesh – and I feel that he is watching over us».

Yves Saint Loulou

Betty was not the only top model that visited Yves in his home in Marrakech as his other muse; Loulou de La Falaise, was also there. The French, designer, former Vogue model and editor, was «an important member of the team behind the French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent» between 1972 and 2002.

Photographed by Bergé, Yves and Loulou show up in a black and white photo hanging out in a garden in Marrakech. Smiling to the camera, the accessories designer was sitting next to the French expatriate on a rug picnicking under the shadow of a tree. «Her presence at my side is a dream», said once Laurent who loved having her next to him even during his stays in Marrakech.

Loulou la Falaise and Yves Saint Laurent picnicking in Marrakech./Ph. DRLoulou la Falaise and Yves Saint Laurent picnicking in Marrakech./Ph. DR

In an article published by the Guardian 7 years ago it is explained how these two designers were bonding. «She had been wild with Saint Laurent beyond the clothes : too much drink, too many substances in Marrakech», wrote the British newspaper.  

The wild Getty couple on a roof in Marrakech

No other celebrity is most known for her trip to Morocco as Talitha Getty, the Dutch actress and model who was closely associated to the city of Marrakech. As above mentioned by Pierre Bergé, Talhita who was regarded in the 60s as a style icon was among the many friends that visited Yves. In 1968, Talitha married her husband Paul Getty, an American industrialist and founder of Getty Oil Company, embarking on an international jet-set, the couple shared their time between London, Rome and Marrakech.

According to a historical blog, Dandy in Aspic, the couple was inspired by the French designer. Their trip was remembered by a photo taken in January 1969 by Patrick Lichfield. Commenting on the picture showing Paul hooded in an off white Jellaba and Talitha lying on the floor with her colorful Caftan, Yves said : «I knew the youthfulness of the Sixties (...) Talitha and Paul Getty lying on a starlit terrace in Marrakesh, beautiful and damned, and a whole generation assembled as if for eternity where curtain of the past seemed to lift before the extraordinary future».

The Getty couple on a roof in Marrakech./Ph. DRThe Getty couple on a roof in Marrakech./Ph. DR

Lisa Fronssagrives and Suzy Parker

Although Yves Saint Laurent remained one of the distinguished fashion figures that somehow encouraged these celebrities to discover the beauty of Morocco and Marrakech in particular, other models packed their bags on work visits to the Kingdom. One of them is Lisa Fonssagrives, the Swedish first super model in the industry.

Photographed by Jean Desses, a world leading fashion designer in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Lisa posed in 1951 in the Bahia Palace in Marrakech. In an astonishing black and white picture, the stunning model sat on a mosaic floor wearing a manly Moroccan traditional robe known as Selham or cape with a towel covering her hair. The authenticity of the palace and its furniture made the photograph shout Morocco as Lisa was sitting next to a traditional Moroccan tea pot.

Lisa Fonssagrives in Bahia palace in Marrakech in 1951./Ph. Jean DessesLisa Fonssagrives in Bahia palace in Marrakech in 1951./Ph. Jean Desses

Meanwhile, Suzy Parker, an American model and actress who had one of the most active modeling careers featured in magazine covers, movies, and advertisements, also visited Morocco. In April 1953, the blond mesmerizing woman flew to the Kingdom to shoot for ELLE magazine.

The results of this visit were amazing, a series of photos in the Sahara, with locals and around Kasbahs. The young model at the time posed next to Moroccan figs, nomads sitting next to their tents and even in front of a straying black cow.

Throughout the years, Morocco was a refuge for celebrities from all domains and industries. Rockers, intellectuals and now models have all visited imperial cities such as Marrakech, Tangier and Fes in a way that was remembered by history.

Suzy Parker posing for Elle magazine in Morocco in April 1953./Ph. DRSuzy Parker posing for Elle magazine in Morocco in April 1953./Ph. DR

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